‘Harriet’ film screens in Chatham after public push

It was a grassroots lobbying campaign in Chatham-Kent, Ont. that convinced Cineplex to screen the movie ‘Harriet’ in town.

The film, a Hollywood biopic tells the story of abolitionist Harriet Tubman, who helped hundreds of slaves through the Underground Railroad. 

A tweet from Sam Meredith, who runs the Chatham-Kent Black Historical Society, is what got the ball rolling. 

Meredith called it “extremely irritating” that Cineplex wasn’t planning on bringing the movie to the region, noting that Chatham-Kent was home to many black settlements and three black history museums. 

That tweet spurred a public push for the film to be brought to the community — and Cineplex changed their mind.

“Our success is based on providing the content that our guests want to see,” said Sarah Van Lange with Cineplex. “We heard from our guests that this movie was important to be playing in that screen, so we are very pleased to bring it.”

Meredith said when she heard the news she “jumped up and danced around” in her house. 

“It’s super important that films like this come to our community because it is our history,” said Meredith.

Shannon Prince, curator of the black history museum in Buxton was also thrilled the film would be coming to Chatham-Kent.

“I’m just hopeful and grateful that people will go and support it, and just to get a better understanding of the history,” said Prince, who first saw the film at the Toronto International Film Festival. 

Tubman ‘more fabulous’ than the movie shows

Nobody in Windsor knows the Harriet Tubman story better than Leslie McCurdy, a Windsor woman who has starred in the one-woman play ‘The Spirit of Harriet Tubman.’

McCurdy has seen the film twice so far, but wasn’t entirely thrilled with what was on the big screen.

“My initial impression is that I’m glad Harriet Tubman’s story is finally being told .. but I thought the movie was sort of Harriet-light.” said McCurdy. “She’s more fabulous than what the movie actually showed.”

Nobody in Windsor knows the Harriet Tubman story better than Leslie McCurdy, a Windsor woman who has starred in the one-woman play ‘The Spirit of Harriet Tubman.’ (Tahmina Aziz/CBC)

McCurdy went with about five other black women the first time she saw the movie.

“One of the things the group wasn’t happy with was … ultimately having Harriet saved by a white slave man in the story,” said McCurdy. “A lot of the sisters I was with felt … the great white saviour trope was [too much.]”

Another problem McCurdy had with the film was the casting of a black man in a bounty slave hunter role. Wanting to give the film another chance, McCurdy went to see the film again a second time. 

“It was irritating that they wrote things in, fictionally,” said McCurdy. “I [went back] looking to see what new things I could learn.”

McCurdy said the film didn’t show enough of Tubman’s “intellect and brilliance.”

The film opens Friday in Chatham.



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